Book Lovers: 10 Most Unique and Memorable Bookstores, Museums, and Libraries for the Traveling Bibliophile

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If your ideal getaway revolves around hunting for old books, or discovering the unique institutions that house them, these ten bookstores, museums, and libraries in the Northeast USA will fulfill your passion.

  1. Argosy Bookstore, New York NY. One of the last remaining independent bookshops in NYC, the 6-floor Argosy, founded in 1925 by Louis Cohen, is now run by Cohen’s three daughters, Judith Lowry, Naomi Hample, and Adina Cohen, and Judith’s son, Ben. Not only will you find rare, First Edition, and other crusty old books there – you’ll find baseball cards, celebrity autographed photos,  collectibles, and maps of all kinds. MORE TO DO HERE.
  1. Morgan Library and Museum, Manhattan NY. Most tourists don’t know about this terrific museum and the exquisitely preserved library designed by Charles McKim of McKim, Meade and White, and commissioned by John Pierpont Morgan – founder of J.P. Morgan. The 2006 expansion by Renzo Piano – a magnificent glass box atrium – connects a lovely restaurant and other galleries to the incredible 4-room Library, restored in 2010 to its original 1906 splendor. If you do nothing else here, make a beeline to the East Room, North Room, West Room and Rotunda of Morgan’s Library – to find yourself in a kind of Harry Potter meets Renaissance-European world of rare books, tapestries, mosaics, handwritten manuscripts, and historic letters, with a good dollop of wonder thrown in. Though these treasures rotate on view, you may see Robert Louis Stevenson’s notebook scribbled with the first draft of what he originally called a “Fine Bogey Tale,” and became The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. MORE TO DO HERE.
  2. The Strand Bookstore, New York NY. New York’s most famous bookstore with “18 miles of books.”

  1. Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg PA. What was once the first non-segregated movie house in PA (and then a succession of clothing and antique stores) is now one of America’s largest used academic bookstores. The New York Times called visiting here “nearly a religious experience,” and you’ll see why as you wander through 15,000 sq feet of mazelike stacks containing over 100,000 books on several floors. Owners Eric Papenfuse (Mayor of Harrisburg) and his wife, Kathy wanted to bring vitality back to this depressed area of town by anchoring this bookstore/coffee bar/café for book clubs, concert-goers, performing artists and discussion groups. They have succeeded – attracting an influx of young families and artists, an indie movie theater (Midtown Theater), Urban Churn (a hip old fashioned ice-cream shop), the Millworks (hyper-local restaurant and artist collective), and other restaurants, cafes and museums. MORE TO DO in HARRISBURG.

  1. Rosenbach, Philadelphia PA. The Rosenbach preserves Bram Stoker’s original notes for Dracula, and handwritten pages of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, among a treasure trove of literary riches, first editions, and rare books. During “Hands-On Tours” – most Fridays at 3pm (RSVP necessary), visitors get to actually handle these masterpieces. MORE ON PHILLY ARTS AND LETTERS.
Photo Credit: Beinecke Library, Yale Campus, New Haven CT
  1. Beinecke Library, New Haven CT. Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library holds one of the few remaining Gutenberg Bibles left intact in the world. In place of paper-damaging glass windows, diffused light from beautiful translucent yellow marble panes one and a quarter inch thick set the inner shaft of books ablaze when the sun is low in the sky. MORE ON NEW HAVEN HERE.

  1.  St. Johnsbury Athenaeum, St. Johnsbury, VT. Oh, those Victorians sure knew how to study and research with class. Step into this beaut of a library/art gallery and drink in that 1870’s charm, lovingly preserved. Two story bookshelves, accessed by intricate carved wood spiral staircases, and lamp-lit communal tables entice all who enter to stay awhile; it’s the perfect place to overcome procrastination. MORE ABOUT ST. JOHNSBURY HERE.

  1. Providence Athenaeum, Providence RI. Edgar Allen Poe courted his ladylove Sara Helen Whitman among the stacks of this Greek Revival, member supported library. Built in 1838, and filled floor to ceiling with books rare and pulp, the Athenaeum is a city treasure. Take the self-guided “Raven Tour” (“follow the ravens”) to find stories about Poe, about the building itself and original handwritten cards in the still-functioning card catalog. Come on a Friday evening from 5-7pm for the free coffeehouse style Salon Series that serves to amplify what’s happening in Providence. Check the website for speakers. Wine, sherry, nibbles and “brilliant conversation” are complimentary. MORE ABOUT PROVIDENCE HERE.

  1. Gibson’s Bookstore, Concord NH. When an independently owed bookstore forces out a Barnes and Nobel or Borders, they are doing something right. Gibson’s, which hosts author readings and other programming, and has taken over a full city block, is doing just that. MORE IN CONCORD NH.

  1. Yiddish Book Center, Amherst MA. In 1980, when Hampshire College grad, Aaron Lansky, was pursuing his Masters in Yiddish Literature at McGill University, he was hard pressed to find any books in that language. This led to a request for books posted as handwritten notes in those New York coffee shops that Lansky knew to be frequented by old Jews. The response, you’ll learn on an eye-opening visit here, was overwhelming. Over 1.5 million books – representing 40,000-70,000 titles – have been collected so far from vanishing Jewish communities around the world, including Zimbabwe and China. For Jews, according to Lansky, “books are a portable homeland.” When he began collecting in 1980, Lansky felt he was “picking up fragments of this world and saving them for the future.” Walk into the 49,000 sq ft. Yiddish Book Center, currently recognized as “one of the largest Jewish Cultural and Educational organizations in the country,” designed to look like an Eastern European shtetl, grab a self-guided tour brochure, watch the 12 minute orientation video and prepare to be immersed in all aspects of this foreign yet familiar tongue. MORE IN AMHERST HERE.

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